In life, there are numerous expectations. Individuals make choices in the hopes of achieving the best outcome and desiring that those choices lead to happiness.
Occasionally, the outcomes of these choices do not align with what was originally intended. In Adrienne Rich’s poem “Living in Sin,” a woman discovers that the romanticized notion of love she had imagined fails to meet her expectations. The depiction of her studio apartment serves as a stark reminder of how her anticipation of life and living with her boyfriend has turned into a disillusioning letdown.
The female protagonist in the poem is cohabiting with her lover and boyfriend outside of marriage, which was considered a sinful act by most Christians during that era. She had idealized notions of how her life with her boyfriend would be filled with love and happiness. However, she comes to realize that her expectations have not been met. In the opening lines of “Living in Sin” by Adrienne Rich, she conveys her initial expectations, “She had thought the studio would keep itself; / no dust upon the furniture of love” (lines 1-2). By comparing the studio and its furniture to her relationship, she begins to recognize that neither of them align with her envisioned reality.
She expresses her ideal expectations for her relationship and living arrangement by expressing a desire for clean taps and windows. She envisions a scene in her apartment with a grand piano adorned with a Persian shawl and a plate of pears. She believes that maintaining this level of cleanliness and aesthetic beauty in her living space will directly impact the success of her relationship. This demonstrates her tendency to fantasize about her ideal life.
The woman with an undying belief in love is jolted back to reality by disappointment. She is startled by the sound of a milkman climbing the decrepit stairs. As the morning sunlight streams in, she notices remnants of yesterday’s cheese and three eerie bottles that she needs to clean up. In her kitchen, she appears to make eye contact with a beetle and implies that there are many more like it. The kitchen, along with the entire apartment, falls short of her expectations for her living situation and life.
The disappointment the author feels continues when her boyfriend enters the scene. He appears lazy, still in bed, and shows no interest in addressing the issues at hand. As evidenced by his actions of yawning, playing a few notes on the piano, remarking on its out-of-tune state, disregarding his appearance in the mirror, and tending to his beard, he clearly has no intention of taking any action to fix the broken piano. Similarly, he disregards the broken nature of their relationship and selfishly leaves the untidy apartment without displaying any affection towards the woman or offering assistance in tidying up. It becomes apparent that he lacks motivation to improve their situation and this realization dawns on her.
Feeling lonely and trapped in a deteriorating relationship, she starts to clean the apartment, attempting to piece things back together. However, her lack of motivation becomes apparent as she inadvertently lets the coffee-pot boil over on the stove while cleaning. This careless act is reflective of her apathetic approach towards her relationship. Although she yearns for a fairy tale romance, her daily reminders serve as constant reminders that her life falls short of the excitement she desires.
This poem depicts the perils of love and cohabitation. Love can be rewarding, but requires effort and communication. Living with someone can be exhilarating, but can also become monotonous. Despite one’s best efforts, expectations may not be met. Is love worth risking everything for?